Five nonfiction books about Canada

It’s July! When I think of July, I think of two things, Canada Day (because I’m Canadian) and Disability Pride Month.

For this month, I’ll be sharing a book lists both about Canada and about Disability Justice.


July 1st is Canada Day. It celebrates the passing of the British North America Act, which unified the United Canadas, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick as a single dominion within the British Empire. Canada didn’t become fully independent from the British Empire until 1982!

In late June of 2021, unmarked graves of Indigenous children were found at a residential school in BC. This sparked outrage across the country and led to many Canada Day celebrations to be canceled or changed into gatherings of remembrance/protests.

These unmarked graves were a reminder of how much still needs to be done for reconciliation and how recent this history really is. The last residential school was shut down in 1996 (Gordon Reserve Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan). That’s within my lifetime!

In recent years, it’s become more common to use July 1st as a time to protest or organize peaceful rallies.

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Learning about Canada

No matter how you choose to spend July 1st, I think Canada Day is a great day to learn more about Canada.

It’s important to understand how this country was formed, what influenced the creation of all our systems, and most of all, what we’ve done wrong as a country, to ensure that we have changed and continue to change for the better.

Our history informs our present. The past has lead to the present, and continues to influence it.

There are many laws formed long ago that still play a role in our governance. For instance, the Indian Act (from 1876!) is still active and plays a vital role in the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous nations. I should note, it has been amended over the years, but that doesn’t mean all the issues have been fixed.

Like most things in life, context is key. History is just the context for where we are at now, which is why it’s important to better understand how we got to this point.

The nonfiction books about Canada below showcase a range of information about Canada, starting with a personal memoir of a settler, along with a handful of nonfiction from Indigenous authors and perspectives.

Indigenous voices have often been ignored and silenced throughout Canadian history, so it’s even more vital to listen to their voices now.

Five nonfiction books about Canada

Here’s a list of five nonfiction books about Canada.

  1. Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie (1852)
  2. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (2012)
  3. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga (2017)
  4. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph (2018)
  5. Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada by Harold R. Johnson (2019)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Roughing It in the Bush (1852)

by Susanna Moodie

  • Year Published: 1852
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, memoir, challenging, emotional, informative, slow-paced
  • A canonical work of Canadian literature, with historic and cultural value, as well as literary merit

Roughing It in the Bush, first published in 1852, helped to destroy British illusions about life in Upper Canada. Susanna Moodie described a life of backbreaking labour, poverty, and hardship on a pioneer farm in the colonial wilderness. Her sharp observations, satirical character sketches, and moments of despair and terror were a startling contrast to the widely circulated optimistic accounts of life in British North America, written to entice readers across the Atlantic.

The spontaneity, wit, and candour of Moodie’s account of life on a backwoods farm give Roughing It in the Bush enduring appeal.

Links:

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012)

by Thomas King

  • Year Published: 2012
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Won the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize and was a finalist for the 2013 Trillium Book Award and the 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature
  • Adapted into a documentary titled Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Links:

Seven Fallen Feathers**: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City (2017)

by Tanya Talaga

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, politics, challenging, informative, sad, medium-paced
  • Won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing in 2017, the RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction and PMC Indigenous Literature Awards in 2018

In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.

More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.

Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.

Links:

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality (2018)

by Bob Joseph

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, politics, race, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Winner of the 2019 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award

Based on a viral article (on CBC), 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.

Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Links:

Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada (2019)

by Harold R. Johnson

  • Year Published: 2019
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, history, memoir, politics, emotional, informative, reflective, slow-paced

An urgent, informed, intimate condemnation of the Canadian state and its failure to deliver justice to Indigenous people by national bestselling author and former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson.

In early 2018, the failures of Canada’s justice system were sharply and painfully revealed in the verdicts issued in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The outrage and confusion that followed those verdicts inspired former Crown prosecutor and bestselling author Harold R. Johnson to make the case against Canada for its failure to fulfill its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.

In this direct, concise, and essential volume, Harold R. Johnson examines the justice system’s failures to deliver “peace and good order” to Indigenous people. He explores the part that he understands himself to have played in that mismanagement, drawing on insights he has gained from the experience; insights into the roots and immediate effects of how the justice system has failed Indigenous people, in all the communities in which they live; and insights into the struggle for peace and good order for Indigenous people now.

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Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.